Daily Brief 28 Jun 2010
Helping out some Marines

Ideologues and COIN

Crush points out, while nodding sagely in agreement, a piece by COL Gian Gentile bemoaning the idea that an insurgency should be fought using a counterinsurgency strategy. I think it bears a look at COL Gentile and his deep and abiding distaste for COIN prior to taking him too seriously. There is plenty to debate about the best way to counter an insurgency, but if you are going to debate you need an open mind. That is lacking here as the rhetoric in COL Gentile's piece clearly shows. Emphases showing his spleen are mine.

The principles of population-centric counterinsurgency (COIN) have become transcendent in the U.S. Army and other parts of the greater Defense Establishment. Concepts such as population security, nation building, and living among the people to win their hearts and minds were first injected into the Army with the publication of the vaunted Field Manual (FM) 3–24, Counterinsurgency, in December 2006. Unfortunately, the Army was so busy fighting two wars that the new doctrine was written and implemented and came to dominate how the Army thinks about war without a serious professional and public debate over its efficacy, practicality, and utility.

Actually I recall a whole lot of professional and public debate about COIN while things were gong South in Iraq and COL Gentile's voice was front and center vociferously opposing it. In the end, his view didn't prevail and he isn't too pleased about that.

The fundamental assumption behind population-centric counterinsurgency and the Army’s “new way of war” is that it has worked in history, was proven to work in Iraq during the surge, and will work in the future in places such as Afghanistan as long as its rules are followed, the experts are listened to, and better generals are put in charge.

Did I miss something, I thought that a switch to COIN was one of the major factors in our victory in Iraq. even the Anbar Awakening was conditioned upon our employing a strategy that was focused on safeguarding the populace and helping the Iraqis do just that.

Of course, leaders in war must be held accountable for their actions and what results from them. But to use as a measuring stick the COIN principles put forth in FM 3–24 with all of their underlying and unproven theories and assumptions about insurgencies and how to counter them is wrong, and the Army needs to think hard about where its collective “head is at” in this regard.

I get the feelng you think it might be "up its ass".

It is time for the Army to debate FM 3–24 critically, in a wide and open forum. The notion that it was debated sufficiently during the months leading up to its publication is a chimera. Unfortunately, the dialogue within defense circles about counterinsurgency and the Army’s new way of war is stale and reflects thinking that is well over 40 years old. In short, our Army has been steamrollered by a counterinsurgency doctrine that was developed by Western military officers to deal with insurgencies and national wars of independence from the mountains of northern Algeria in the 1950s to the swamps of Indochina in the 1960s. The simple truth is that we have bought into a doctrine for countering insurgencies that did not work in the past, as proven by history, and whose efficacy and utility remain highly problematic today. Yet prominent members of the Army and the defense expert community seem to be mired in this out-of-date doctrine.

I think that ignoring the recent success of this strategy in Iraq is telling.

For example, the widely read counterinsurgency expert Tom Ricks, in his blog The Best Defense, regurgitated some pithy catechisms from another COIN expert, the former Australian army officer David Kilcullen, on how to best measure effectiveness in COIN operations in Afghanistan. One of the measurements put forward by Kilcullen and then proffered by Ricks is the stock mantra that in any COIN operation, the greater the number of civilians killed, the greater the number of insurgents made, and therefore the less pacified the area. Sadly, Ricks and many other COIN zealots have accepted the matter as fact and have gone on to believe other such things as matters of faith.

Zealots eh, project much?

It is time for FM 3–24 to be deconstructed and put back together in a similar way as the Army’s Active Defense Doctrine was between 1976 and 1982. That previous operational doctrine was thoroughly debated and discussed in open (not closed bureaucratic) forums, and the result of that debate was a better operational doctrine for the time commonly referred to as Airland Battle. In short, FM 3–24 today is the Active Defense Doctrine of 1976; it is incomplete, and the dysfunction of its underlying theory becomes clearer every day. The Army needs a better and more complete operational doctrine for counterinsurgency, one that is less ideological, less driven by think tanks and experts, less influenced by a few clever books and doctoral dissertations on COIN, and less shaped by an artificial history of counterinsurgency. When will the Army undertake a serious revision of this incomplete and misleading doctrine for counterinsurgency?

The fact that I am quite familiar with COL Gentile and his opinions regarding COIN would seem to argue against his feeling that there was no public debate about how to deal w/ insurgents. It seems more likely that since he lost those public debates he is now bitter. The Army needed a doctrine to deal with the active insurgencies we were facing and COL Gentile was definitely heard, he simply didn't prevail. We continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the particular tactics that make up this doctrine and empirical evidence from the battlefield is examined to facilitate that. it may seem counter-intuitive for an Army to have a sweetness & light side, but it remains a fact that you can't kill your way out of every problem.